As a developer of web sites, I’ve had experience with quite a few hosting providers over the years. Few of them have been much beyond “satisfactory”. After watching how Rochen managed the extraordinary demands of the Joomla community web site (www.joomla.org), and considering that they did this above and beyond the call of duty — as a sponsor Rochen sees no direct revenue from Joomla, I recently decided to open an account there.

The relationship is new, but so far it’s looking very, very good.
In my experience, despite the fact that every provider claims that they have state of the art network monitoring and all those good things, they typically don’t do that well when one of their systems has a problem. Certainly if a system goes down, they tend to respond quickly, but most hosting problems have to do with service degradation rather than with outright failures. In this regard, most providers don’t have a clue. You have to work through two levels of support “yes, I do have the right password, no, nothing on the site has changed for months”, etc. before a support ticket gets bumped up to someone who finally goes “whoa, this system is running at a load factor of 50!” and takes action.

Half the time, the problem is intermittent (for example, some other site on the same system has high-load queries that generate reports, and by the time you get to the right support level, the queries have run so everything looks fine). You would think that a decent hosting company could quickly look at historical stats and see the problem, but if they can, most support techs either don’t know how or just won’t bother to do it, favouring the immensely frustrating “everything seems fine now, I’m closing this ticket” approach.

Even when there is an issue they know about, you get “status updates” along the lines of “We are experiencing a problem with some of our systems. We’ll update you here.” Followed some time later with “The problem has been resolved, everything is fine, thanks for your understanding.” That’s great, but what do I tell my customers in the meantime?

One look at Rochen convinced me that my experience there would be different. They maintain publicly accessible pre-sales forums. A significant number of the messages in there have to do with new customers who have a glitch in setting up. Some new customers get pretty upset and post angry words. Invariably, Rochen has resolved the issues quickly, and in most cases the problem is at the customer side. These somewhat embarrassed customers tend to close the thread with an apology and a note that Rochen can delete the thread since it might be misconstrued. Rochen’s policy is to leave the messages there, even if the problem is a result of their own mistake. This openness is both novel and refreshing in a market of generic providers.

I had some issues in getting set up myself. I got a response to the issue from the Chris Adams, Rochen’s CEO — on the weekend; well above the call of duty. I now have contact information for two hosting company CEOs, but the first was extracted only after some pretty serious threats on my part (I won’t name the second company, since overall they do care and try their best).

A few hours ago, I got an e-mail announcement from Rochen that there was a problem with the server I’m on. The announcement linked me to a private customer forum, where within the span of 30 minutes, they identified the specific nature of the problem, advised of the steps they were taking to resolve it, updated as they brought all but one server up, updated when the last server came up, reported down time of 5 and 10 minutes respectively, explained what the issue was, and took responsibility for it. Wow. Proactive, timely, and full disclosure: that’s what I expect from a hosting provider, and this is the first time in over a decade that I’ve had one meet those expectations.

I have a feeling that it’s going to be a long time before I need to start looking for another supplier, and that’s a very good thing. Lets me focus on my work, not somebody else’s. Rochen isn’t the least expensive provider out there (nor are they the most expensive), but when it comes to delivering value, they just moved to the head of the class.